Chapter 28: Creatures of the Night
Down in the dormitory, people were settling down for the night. Farm work was hard, exhausting work, and already some had collapsed onto their beds, fast asleep fully dressed and covered in the dirt and grime of the day’s efforts. Marshall was in the bathroom area, having just stepped out of the shower. He was drying his hair and staring into a mirror at the thick beard developing on his chin.
There was a sudden burst of static that indicated the radio was coming to life.
“Bravo, Bravo, Alpha one-niner. This is Nest Eagle calling home base. Come in home base.”
Marshall let out a groan that seemed to rumble up from deep inside him as he reached for the walkie-talkie. “What do you want, Eli?” He snapped.
“Marshall, you better get up here. And, um, turn off all the lights. And tell everyone to be very, very, quiet.”
A chill rolled down Marshall’s spine. “Why?” he demanded. “What’s going on?”
“I’m serious Marshall. Just please, please trust me on this one. You’re going to want to do what I ask. And hurry.”
The large man swore under his breath and bolted from the room. He was going so fast he almost crashed onto Daniel.
“Woah! Where’s the fire?”
“Turn out the lights,” Marshall snapped. “And get everyone to be as quiet as possible. And wait here!” This last sentence he called over his shoulder, as he was already running out the door. He stopped briefly at the girl’s dorm to tell them the same, but Amber and Aliyah were coming out the door when he got there. “We got it,” Amber said simply.
“Good, stay inside.” Marshall commanded.
“Fat chance.” Aliyah responded, gripping the hilt of her machete. Marshall decided he did not want to argue with a woman wielding a machete. He ran on, instead.
In the darkness, he almost did not see the ladder for the guard tower until he was upon it. Climbing it was oddly difficult without being able to see more than a rung or two ahead. After a moment, the clouds above their heads parted, casting silvery moonlight across the metal bars allowing him to climb faster.
When he reached the top he burst through the door and into the room. Eli was standing, leaning against the console, looking through binoculars at the tree line across the street from the base. He barely glanced at them as they entered.
“Okay, Eli, what the hell is so important?”
Eli finally stepped back and held out the binoculars. “Take a look for yourself.” Eli made room for Marshall as the older man grabbed the binoculars and took up the lookout position. “Sorry, I only have one pair of binoculars. I did only invite one person up here though.” Amber shot Eli a vicious look. He coughed and shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “However, you can basically see it all well enough with just your eyes. Just take a look out along the tree line.”
Amber and Aliyah lined up next to Marshall and peered out. At first, Amber saw nothing, and then after a moment she saw what looked like movement. She thought it might just be her eyes playing tricks on her.
Then, finally, she got it.
What had looked like nothing more than swaying branches in the wind was actually bodies – thousands of bodies – moving among the shadows of the forest.
“Undead?” Marshall asked without looking away.
“Yup,” Eli declared. “The Big Zed.”
Everyone turned to look at him.
“Zed. You know. Z? Like zombie? British people say Zed. It’s a thing.”
“Do you ever stop talking?” Amber asked as everyone turned back to the zombies. Marshall handed the binoculars off to Aliyah.
“I didn’t think I talked that much,” Eli muttered under his breath.
“God, it looks like there’s thousands of them,” Aliyah exclaimed.
“At least,” agreed Marshall solemnly. “Better pray to God they haven’t noticed us.”
“They haven’t,” Eli added, and again everyone turned to look at him. “And I don’t think they will either.”
“What makes you so sure?” Amber asked.
Eli stepped up to the window and motioned at the zombies. “Well, look at them. Look at the direction they’re coming from. And look where they’re going. And look how tight the formation is. You’d expect mindless zombies to just kind of be staggering around in every direction. Even if they travelled together there certainly would be stragglers wandering off on their own or something. But there’s none. Pretty much all that’s over in the direction they’re coming from is the town, and we saw them behave like this while we were in town. Singular minded. Like they were being controlled or... or herded.”
“Herded by what? What could herd zombies?” Aliyah asked.
Eli bit his lip and swallowed hard, but he did not have to answer. Marshall already knew.
“The head zombie,” he said.
“Exactly,” Eli agreed.
“The head what?” Aliyah demanded.
“The head zombie,” Marshall repeated. “The one that could talk. The one that had us tied up in chairs and ordering his zombie servants to serve us food so he could fatten us like livestock. The one that was intelligent enough to form plans.”
“I thought we killed him,” Amber said as Aliyah handed her the binoculars.
“We did,” Eli answered. “At least, I think we did. I’m pretty sure we did. But the way he spoke… he said there were others. Others who felt differently about humans than he did. I think he may have been suggesting there were others like him. Others that are… evolved, or whatever. I think they might be able to control the less developed zombies.”
“So that’s what we’re seeing here,” Aliyah interjected, pinching her lip thoughtfully. “Like you said, zombies being herded. By a smart zombie. Taking the flock from the shepherd we killed and claiming it as his own.”
“Exactly,” Eli replied, nodding his head in agreement.
Everyone turned back to watch the zombie hoard roaming through the trees. Nobody said anything more for a time. Marshall finally managed to pull himself away from the window. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Nobody say anything about this to the others.”
“Are you sure about that?” Eli asked. Marshall shot him a deadly glance, but for once Eli was not trying to just be difficult. He raised his hands defensively. “Hey, come on, it’s a legitimate question. I just want to make sure you really think that’s the right thing to do.”
“He’s got a point,” Amber admitted. “Should we be hiding this from everyone?”
“And what do you propose we tell them?” demanded Marshall. “That there’s a million, billion zombies out there being controlled by some intelligent mega-zombie and one day when they decide to come for us there’ll be absolutely nothing we can do about it?”
Amber swallowed. “Yes? But… less pessimistic, maybe?”
“I refuse to believe there’s absolutely no way for us to fight back,” Aliyah agreed, nodding her head. “If we tell the others, we can began working on a solution. Prepare ourselves for the danger.”
“We can do that,” Marshall consented. “But let’s do that, just the four of us. Once we have some ideas on how to defend ourselves, then we can tell the others.”
“We can build a moat,” Eli suggested. Once again, all eyes turned to him. “You know, like around castles? We could dig one around the base.” He waved his hands in a circular pattern as though this somehow made the idea of a moat more feasible. “It wouldn’t stop the zombies but it might slow them down.”
Marshall growled, “We can come up with ideas later. For now, let’s just get back.”
“So you want us to lie to everyone about what we’ve been doing up here?” Amber demanded.
“No,” Marshall said, shaking his head. “Tell them the truth: Eli saw some zombies in the woods and he wanted to make us aware of them. Just in case. Just leave out the stuff about the smart zombies and the mind-control or whatever.”
“A… wait,” said Eli, suddenly confused. “You mean… you mean you haven’t told the others about the talking zombie?”
“Nobody knows but those who were there.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“I don’t want to cause any unnecessary panic.”
“So you’re lying to everyone?”
“I’m not lying, Eli,” growled Marshall. “I just… haven’t mentioned the whole truth. Yet.”
“A lie of omission is still a lie,” Eli warned.
Marshall scowled. “You just let me worry about that.”
Eli shrugged. He had learned firsthand where pushing Marshall too far could lead. He was literally standing in it. So instead he remained quiet. The others stayed for a time, watching the zombie parade roll by just outside their gates. As the trail of the undead began to die off, they began to leave one by one.
Marshall was the last to go, and he didn’t leave until several minutes had gone by without seeing another zombie. He gave a slight nod of his head to Eli and then headed out of the room.
All the way back to the living quarters, an overwhelming sense of dread hung in Marshall’s chest. When Daniel asked what had happened, Marshall repeated the words he’d given to Amber and Aliyah. As he did, Eli’s words of warning echoed through his own head. He wanted to dismiss him as just an annoying, bratty child, but despite all that he knew Eli was right.
He hated him all the more for that fact.